Nonbreaking Spaces in Microsoft Word: A Guide

Knowing how to work with nonbreaking spaces in Microsoft Word is crucial for editors, translators, and designers. So in this post, I’ll teach you how to type them.

A nonbreaking space is a character that has the same width as a word space but prevents an undesirable line break. For example, would you rather read 4.6 million as a unit? Or the number 4.6 at the end of a line and million at the beginning of the next line? (See Figure 1.)

nonbreaking spaces (example)

Figure 1. A regular word space between 4.6 and million results in an awkward line break.

Using nonbreaking spaces lets you control how line wrapping works. In this case, we can treat 4.6 million as a unit and move it all down to the next line (see Figure 2.)

nonbreaking spaces in action (good break)

Figure 2. A nonbreaking space keeps 4.6 and million together, moving them both to the next line.

How to Type Nonbreaking Spaces in Microsoft Word

  • In Windows, type Cntl + Shift + Space.
  • On a Mac, type Opt + Space.

Using Find and Replace with Nonbreaking Spaces

Translators, here’s a quick tip. Say you have a French source document, for example. Nonbreaking spaces appear before all percent signs, after opening quotes and before closing quotes, before colons, before units, etc.

But because you’re translating into English, you need to eliminate some of them—the ones before percent signs, for example.

Do a simple find-and-replace operation to delete the spaces in question:

  1. Find all nonbreaking spaces followed by a percent sign: type ^s% in Word’s Find window. (^s is Microsoft shorthand for “nonbreaking space.”)
  2. Replace with a percent sign: type % in Word’s Replace window.

The above operation can also be tweaked to find and delete the nonbreaking space before or after other characters.

search for nonbreaking spaces in MS Word

Figure 3. Type ^s in the Find window to locate all nonbreaking spaces in your document.

What’s more, the good people at Microsoft know that certain languages use nonbreaking spaces more than others.

In fact, if you set your document’s language to French, the software will automatically insert a nonbreaking space before a colon, a question mark, closing quotation marks, and so on. Voilà une bonne nouvelle !

If you liked this tip, then see our post on how to instantly convert European number format to U.S. format.

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